Of all the weird quirks I had as a kid, I never expected that my fascination with untying knots in the yarn from the arts and crafts box in fourth grade would benefit me in my job today.

I recently did an interview for Business Radio X about one of IBM Security’s initiatives to raise awareness about careers in cybersecurity among middle school girls. The #CyberDay4Girls events are one-day workshops that serve the dual purpose of reinforcing security best practices and closing the cybersecurity skills gap, which is expected to reach 1.5 million unfilled positions by 2020.

While we’re also reaching out to veterans and new collar workers to close this gap, these CyberDay4Girls events are meant to help address the dearth of women in the cybersecurity industry. The fundamental question is whether experience in coding is the end-all-be-all requirement to move into the field. Let me tell you, there are many skills that come in handy in the wonderful world of internet security.

About Those Yarn Knots

While the obvious corollary to the aforementioned yarn knots is the ability to wire a server rack with unrivaled grace and beauty, consider other related skills such as patience and the ability to identify the root cause. During the time I spent reorganizing the yarn box, I focused on tracing a problem to the root and planned a strategy to untangle the issue rather than blindly pulling on whichever thread was closest and potentially making the problem worse.

The ability to identify the root cause of a security incident on the network — or to spot something phishy, if you will — is a crucial skill for cybersecurity professionals. Yes, you could also say that it gave me an out to avoid awkward schoolyard bullying, but learning a coping mechanism is nothing to discount as a life skill, either. And I totally earned an A in art class.

Cat Herding at Its Finest

I have a medal for a 5-kilometer cat herding run hanging in my office. I earned this medal not only for running a 5k, but also because I have semiprofessional experience in actually herding cats, thanks to my volunteer work at a local no-kill cat shelter. I’ve done everything from adoption counseling to interviewing people who want to adopt a cat, fundraising, and actually cleaning and feeding the 80 to 100 cats in the shelter.

The ability to shepherd such troublesome jerks as a bunch of cats is a life skill that benefits me constantly in my job. Not that my co-workers are fuzzy jerks, but projects and product launches can go awry in virtually no time and with startling regularity. Being able to exert influence over a range of activities and people that aren’t actually under my control requires finesse, patience and a little bit of metaphorical catnip. An IT organization, like the human immune system, has many layers of complexity and causal relationships, and the ability to keep projects going in the right direction is a critical skill for careers in cybersecurity.

Obsessive Cataloging

A few years ago, I was going through some boxes of childhood treasures when I found a stack of colorful square pieces of paper from an old memo cube from the 1980s. On these squares, I had scribbled various data points of particular toys related to color, size, accessories (cross-referenced, of course), date acquired and so on. I immediately recognized this as evidence of my very first database, executed on note paper and color-coded for a portion of my childhood toy collection. In the face of such bald evidence, it is clear that my love of spreadsheets started early.

This obsessive attention to detail helps me stay organized, as one needs to do in security investigations, and prepare for the worst. Documentation of asset inventory is a key step in incident preparedness because you won’t know what to fix if you don’t know what you have. However, I cannot, in good conscience, suggest note paper for your asset inventory.

The Evolution of Careers in Cybersecurity

When it comes to sorting out careers in cybersecurity, there is a lot of background to cover. Skills are constantly in flux because the industry continuously adapts and evolves to keep pace with malicious actors. Overall, a willingness to learn and sticktoitiveness will carry you a long way in any job, particularly in cybersecurity, but don’t overlook those unexpectedly useful life skills, either.

Listen to Pam’s Podcast with Business Radio X

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